Is it me or the eggs? Be honest.

19 Jan

I know everyone thinks salespeople just wine and dine clients, that our lives are an endless schmooze-fest of extravagant meals, golf scrambles and executive boxes at sporting venues. Maybe I’m the exception, but I’ve never worked for a company where that was part of the package. (Perhaps because I really don’t consider myself a salesperson and wouldn’t be attracted to a company that wanted me to play the part?)

Anyway, even without a crazy budget for entertainment, occasionally I need to break bread with a client to express my appreciation for our partnership. Today I did just that, with four ad agency contacts whom I’ve come to know and like over the past six months. My client chose the restaurant, and it was a new, upscale place in the Loop called Custom House.

The menu was promising but limited; you could just tell that the portions would be small. Peter, my client, ordered a Caesar salad and modified it to include a chicken breast. When the food arrived, his salad looked suspicious. For starters, it came in what looked like a soup bowl. Second, you couldn’t actually see lettuce, because it was hidden under a pile of chicken, anchovies and a poached egg.

Secretly I sent a shout-out to the Universe for not ordering the Caesar, because I knew there was no way I could stomach that runny egg.

If I didn't order an egg, please don't bring me one. Unless you *like* projectile vomiting.

Apparently Peter couldn’t either, because as soon as his mouth closed over the fork, his face turned white and he hastily threw his chair back and ran from the table. He was gone for ten minutes, and when he returned to the table he dabbed at the corners of his mouth, pushed his plate away and refused the server’s offer to bring another dish.

It reminded me of another client experience years ago, when I’d taken a director from Booz Allen to lunch at a French restaurant and he’d ordered the steak tartare, apparently thinking it was a steak. “I don’t think this is what I ordered,” he said, once the waiter had left our table. I said that it was. “Is it even cooked?” he asked. I said that it was not.

He looked perplexed, so I offered to trade plates, even though I knew it would get ugly if I had to eat raw beef with a cracked egg on top. He claimed he was fine with his selection and loaded his fork, dipped it cautiously in the egg, and slid it in his mouth – only to immediately turn green and bolt from the table.

I shared this story with Peter today, in an attempt to put him at ease and make an awkward situation a bit more comfortable for him. I realized afterward that it’s not necessarily reassuring to tell someone that he is not the first client to vomit in my presence.

So I’ve turned this around in my mind to come up with a positive spin on this experience, to figure out what I can learn from it. There’s only one lesson that really presents itself: if  ever another client orders a dish at lunch that comes with an unanticipated egg on top, I’m going to throw myself in front of his plate and insist that he send it back.

Because really, I’m no salesperson, but it can’t bode well if I make my clients barf.

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